Sunday, August 19, 2012

Review of Susie Bright's "Sexwise"

Dipping into Susie Bright’s Sexwise is like discovering a weird and wonderful time capsule chockfull of 1990s erotic pop culture memorabilia. Who under thirty even remembers the highbrow porno flicks of Andrew Blake or the faux-rotic novels of Nicholson Baker? Who was there—“no shit!”—to catch the hype and largely cooked-up kerfuffle over Madonna’s splashy coffee table book, appropriately enough entitled Sex? Who ever included Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game on their list of top-ten all-time favorite novels? (Not Susie Bright--that's for sure!) Yet, while many of the books, films and personalities featured in these short reviews, essays and interviews have long since faded to footnotes, the insights they inspired remain powerfully relevant today.

Bright’s style is always hip and engaging, often very personal; trenchant, thoughtful, and unapologetically political. She has an endearingly snarky way of cutting through the thickest piles of elitist BS to uncover truths the rightwing neo-puritans and their unwitting enablers on the “sex-negative” left still don’t want you to know. (Her scorching takedown of Catherine McKinnon has rightly been hailed as a classic of sex-positive feminist prose, and is alone worth the price of this book.) Then too, it’s interesting to see how many of her ideas—one-time potshots from across the barricades—have become part of the erotic-intellectual mainstream in the intervening decades, notwithstanding the country’s ever-more dangerous list to the right, and the concomitant resurgence of the most virulently toxic patriarchal reactionary tendencies in the body politic—a.k.a. “The War on Women.” What Bright had to say in the original introduction to Sexwise may be even more puissant today than it was back in 1995:  

 “I wonder how dedicated the oldest ruling class (and their heirs) will be to enforcing sexual silence. History, unfortunately, has not been a series of triumphs for ever-growing enlightenment. Sexual bigotry is still very much a religion, and the extent to which zealots and defenders of the faith will fight for their prejudices is always mind-boggling.

Right now, fundamentalists of all persuasions have only been titillated with a glimpse of the largely middle-class erotic renaissance. Yes, I know they’re appalled, but they ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Frankly I’m sure my sex life could be better—so much better than I could possibly imagine—if their hands had never been around my throat.”

The erotic renaissance that Bright describes and celebrates in these pages is a diverse, vibrant, colorful phenomenon; a dream not yet perfectly realized, but well worth imagining. Her fresh, incisive critiques of erotic literature and film are, in themselves, eye-opening experiences; we feel our minds expanding in the most pleasantly liberating ways. Anybody who ever watched a triple-X porno video probably came away convinced that they could make a better one if only given half a chance; but who knew—who ever stopped to think—that what’s missing, most tellingly, in all those films is an honest portrayal of the female orgasm? As Bright relates in her groundbreaking essay Femm-chismo:

“I used to have one impeccable standard for what made an erotic story female-centered; the woman comes. This simple concept is so rare in traditional erotica that it overwhelms every other feminine consideration. Of course, we’ve all read stories where a woman is overwhelmed with the size of her lover’s penis . . . but how many times do you actually get a her-point-of-view orgasm? We read about how he sees her responding to him, but we don’t see inside her explosion . . .”

Damn! Seriously, it all makes so much more sense now; and this is only one of many brilliant observations to be found in Susie Bright’s Sexwise! Highly recommended.

TAS (Terrance Aldon Shaw)


  1. I'm amused to recognize and/or own every reference in your opening paragraph (I don't own Madonna's book, but that's about it). Yeah, Susie trailblazed and we're all better off for that.

  2. Absolutely! Her book "How To Write a Dirty Story" is a must-read for any apsiring author of erotica. It definitely changed my life!

  3. I'm hiding this under my pillow for a rainy day... thank you so much.

    1. You are most welcome! Gosh! If I'd known the great Susie Bright was going to be visiting us here at Erotica For The Big Brain, I would have tidied up a bit beforehand. :)